Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

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Commissioners table decision on newsracks crowding the Strip

Newsracks along Strip sidewalks — many of them carrying X-rated pamphlets — will be allowed to remain, for now, after Clark County commissioners asked staff to come up with a broader solution to pedestrian congestion along Las Vegas Boulevard.

The issue: The commission considered an ordinance that would have replaced more than 500 independently owned racks along the Strip with a set of county-owned boxes with a uniform appearance.

The vote: The ordinance was voted down unanimously by the commission.

What it means: By not passing the ordinance, commissioners left the door open for a broader plan to clear pedestrian obstructions from Strip sidewalks, including newsracks.

During Tuesday’s meeting, staff reviewed a November pedestrian study that identified 17 bottlenecks along Strip sidewalks and presented options for lessening congestion.

Commissioners seemed to favor a sweeping overhaul, which would see news racks, fire hydrants, signs and other obstructions in the middle of sidewalks removed at a cost of $1.1 million. Another $2 million would be spent to move traffic signal lights and electrical boxes that also crowd the sidewalks.

Those changes would have to be made in form of an ordinance, but no timetable has been set for when that might be presented to commissioners.

Any ordinance restricting newsracks on the Strip could face a First Amendment challenge similar to the legal fight over the rights of handbillers to distribute cards on the sidewalks, Allen Lichtenstein, American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada general counsel, warned commissioners.

“Wholesale removal of newsracks from the Las Vegas Strip creates significant constitutional problems because it’s a total ban of a particular medium of communication,” he said. “We’ve been down this road with other attempts to ban other types of communication. Hopefully we will not go down it again. I think the results will be the same.”

For businessman Eddie Munoz, his concerns about a potential ordinance deal less with the Constitution and more with the bottom line.

The owner of Strip Advertising, Munoz operates 450 newsracks on the Strip, distributing various publications such as the Las Vegas Informer and Adult Informer, which is the main source of his income.

If newsracks were banned, Munoz said, “I’m out of business; I’m out on the street.”

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said removing the newsracks isn’t a free speech issue and that the commission’s goal is to improve the Strip experience for pedestrians, even if it means a loss of business for newsrack operators.

“Our (concern) is strictly about the free flow of pedestrian traffic safely on Las Vegas Boulevard,” Sisolak said. “You can’t help one person to the detriment of 40 million tourists coming to Clark County that are forced out into the right of way because there are immovable objects blocking their passage.”

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